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On Humility

September 1, 2019 Pastor: Rev. George Fyler

Verse: Luke 14:11

Christ Lutheran Church
Cleveland, Ohio
September 1, 2019
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras

Pentecost 12
On Humility

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and everyone who humbles himself will be exalted. Luke 14:11

The Christian religion which was at one time the heart of western culture, is now the most counter-cultural movement of all.

Post-modern persons on the other hand who sneer at gospel of Christ. Who love dogs more than God. And who decide from day to day whether they want to identify as men, women or something else entirely … have become the new normal.

But things are not quite that simple because the real Christian religion – whose chief identifier is humility before God – has never made sense to human hearts, swelled up as they are with human pride.

And so while Christendom provided a rock-solid moral foundation that managed to keep the human race from annihilating itself … the humility that is at the heart of the gospel has never been truly embraced.

We learn this from our Lord's teachings over the past several weeks in which he draws us away from the world, away from what can never satisfy, and calls us home to God.

Several weeks ago Jesus taught us that it does no good to be rich in worldly goods, if we are poor towards God.

Following that he urges us to trust in God to provide the many things we need to support this body and life – because our heavenly Father loves us, cares for us, and knows that we need these things.

Jesus taught us that God did not frame the world in one grand creative act, and then walk away to let us grow up as orphans. But that he is intimately involved in the affairs of the world. Watching over every sparrow, every lily, and above all watching over you who are worth more than many sparrows.

He also talked very pointedly about the cross on which he would suffer and die for the sins of the world. He said, “I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and Oh how great is my distress until it is accomplished.” By this word our Lord teaches us how toxic … how lethal … our sins are. And how immense the price of our redemption.

And last week we heard this radical word from Jesus: that those who are now First – the brightest and the best – will be Last; and the Last shall be First.

And just when you might think that Jesus has run out of shock he says in today’s gospel “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and everyone who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)

At the sound of this sentence all fractured humanity suddenly forgets its many differences, joins hands like long lost friends, and with one thunderous voice cries out:

Crucify him! Crucify him!

Yes, it is a bitter pill that the Lord dispenses today, but one so potent that it will quell the sin and sorrow, the fear and uncertainty that we bring with us to God's house today.

Jesus counteracts all of that and exalts us to the heights of heaven in holy baptism by which we are, even now, "seated in heavenly places with Christ." (Eph. 2:6)

Now just as there is no such thing as August the 32nd there is nothing better than that. Nothing better than to be conjoined to the One who “humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (Phil 2:5ff)

In holy baptism Jesus incorporates us into himself, and thus into God. Remember this O Sons and Daughters of the King. That baptism is not just a symbolic rite, or talking point, but a factual change in location. A change in which God moves us from the domain or darkness, into the kingdom of his own dear Son, in whom we have redemption, that is the forgiveness of sins. (Col. 1:13-14)

This is the reason, according to the Coptic Orthodox Church, that Christians make the sign of the cross from the left shoulder to the right. As a reminder that we have been moved from the kingdom of darkness, to the right hand of God.

But why does this maxim of our Lord provoke people to such rage?

Simply this: that each of us thinks that he himself is god, that she herself is god.

The conversation that takes place in the heart of 7 billion people goes like this: “There is me and everyone else. I am at the center of all things. And each day I have only one mission: to make the world conform to my image and liking.”

If we can do it by cooperation, we do.

If by feigned humility, we do.

If by trickery, we will.

And if nothing else works then by shame, slander, hatred, identity politics; and then if need be by raw power, by robbery, by rape and by violence … whatever it takes to insure that “I” get the best seat at the table.

That is the unstated mission statement of every man woman and child.

Now enter Jesus with a teaching that turns the world on its ear, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

But this is no hasty generalization on the Lord’s part. No trite slogan, or FB meme but the foundational teaching of Christian religion. Jesus himself teaches it 3 separate times in the gospels. St. James teaches it twice in his epistle. And St. Peter twice in his.

“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

But now that we have heard the Lord's divine word how do we do it?

How do we keep it?

To quote the prophet Jeremiah, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or leopard his spots?” (Jeremiah 13:23)

All we can say, dear ones, is that to love these words, and make them your own, is a gift. A gift that begins at baptism. That picks up speed with Christian instruction, and that reaches its maximum expression at the altar where we commune with Jesus. Where we receive his living flesh into our dead flesh; his rational mind and soul into our irrationality.

Now you may be aware that there are different postures for receiving holy communion, and each has its symbolism.

In some churches people stand to receive the Lord’s Supper and this is good; because standing is the Christian position of acquittal. Of one who has been forgiven all his sins, for Christ’s sake, and declared “not guilty” by the Judge of all the Earth.

At certain times in church history kneeling was forbidden between Easter and Pentecost as a sign of the victory that Christ gained for us by his resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit. And to this day in many Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches the worshipers stand for their entire liturgy, in a church that has no pews.

In our church we kneel, which is the Christian posture of humility, a posture that is not valued anywhere in the world, except the church.

When you humble yourself before God’s altar to receive this “medicine of immortality” let it remind you of the Lord’s blessed humility that he modeled, and passes on to you.

But don’t stay there. Because like the man in today’s gospel that Jesus made well, we too are made well. We too are exalted here by Jesus, and raised up to the seat of honor. And like that man Jesus sends us on our way, too, into the world to live the exalted life of Christian humility.

Go now and do likewise.

Amen.